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Musings on Yin & Yang

Yin Yang

I awake, shivering, in the cold of the pre-dawn. The single blanket seemed adequate last night. The alleys I wander along towards the foot of the hill are mostly deserted apart from the odd cow sleeping whilst standing (what a skill!). I savour the quiet and solitude as I begin to climb away from the town. I stumble here and there in the gloaming but with every passing moment the dawn tones lighten, solid forms appearing from the wash of shadow.

I stop for a while where a couple of young boys are sitting by a tiny fire. It is only as I warm my hands that I realise that they are still cold (Yin). Without the reference of the fire’s Yang heat the cold in them seemed non existent. I set off again, the dawn emerging colour from the sepia tones. The desert town of Pushkar below is awakening – the horns of the Ajmer busses pierce the crisp quiet and now and then bells call to the legion Hindu gods from temples in all quarters. Yang slowly grows within the cold dark Yin of the desert night.

At the summit of the hill is a small Hindu temple looking down over the lake and surrounding town and with a stunning view of the Rajhastan desert stretching away into the distance between the Snake mountains. The beautiful backdrop to the town is the symmetrical conical Savitri Mountain. The sun breaks over a ridge to the east and I shake my head in wonder as the most perfect representation of the concept of Yin & Yang is revealed. The shady side of Savatri’s western slope lies in stark contrast to the eastern face basking in the warm yellow glow of the new day.

This makes me think of the Chinese characters for Yin 陰 and Yang 陽:

  • For Yin, the radical 侌 combines 今 (meaning 'now' or 'present') and 云 (meaning 'cloud'). This can then mean "今 presence of 云 clouds" or perhaps "云 cloudy 今 at this time".

  • For Yang, the radical 昜 (meaning 'bright') combines 日 meaning 'sun') with 勿 (meaning 'rays' or 'radiation downwards').

  • When these are combined with the radical 阝(meaning 'mound' or 'hill') we end up with Yin meaning the 'cloudy/shady side of a hill' and Yang meaning the 'sunny/bright side of a hill'. The important factor here is that we are seeing the relative qualities of two sides of the same hill and that the designation and balance of Yin Yang is dependent on the inherent flux and change through time and circumstances.

As the sunlight creeps imperceptibly to a different angle, my appreciation of this symmetrical beauty deepens. The light reveals a further refinement of the nature of Yin Yang philosophy beyond simply a relative comparison of opposites. A ridge runs down the south slope of Savatri (facing me) producing another set of smaller slope angles – A sunny slope within the greater shady west slope and a consequent shady one within the extent of the greater sunny east face. Here the view of Savatri gives a beautiful representation of the concept that there is always some Yin within Yang and some Yang within Yin. This is represented in the familiar TaiJi symbol by the seeds of one colour within the greater swirl of the other. I sit almost mesmerised by this transient effect and my mind drifts back to the richness of the journey to Pushkar the previous day...

...When I awake, the train is stopped at a platform. Somewhere in the journey. The bustle on the platform life milling with passengers, hawkers, porters, water Wallah’s and so on in the burning desert sun contrasts with the relative cool, quiet and calm within the carriage. A chai wallah sporting a shockingly bright red turban moves from window to window. Hawkers have boarded to pester the hapless passengers like flies. The passengers are mostly inert and tolerate the cries of “chai” “coffee” “samosa” “pani” …. with no response or perhaps at most a shake of the head. The Yang of the hawkers’ vigorous sales patter engenders complete Yin response in some of the passengers who clearly feel the best technique of avoiding attention is to remain completely inert.

I reflect on the effectiveness of the varying sales techniques I have encountered in the ubiquitous bazaars. Some salesmen are extremely Yang in their approach, buzzing around the customers, asking all sorts of questions and talking incessantly about their products and peppering the interaction with anything which their (usually) limited English will stretch to. I am inclined to think that the most successful sales persons are those who are more subtle Yin-like approach: allowing space and time (of course without displaying total disinterest) and allowing the customer to reveal an interest and initiate an active (Yang) interaction.

The train lazily belches off-lets of excess compressed air from time to time and the background hum and vibration of machinery somewhere gives promise of the vast potential power waiting to be unleashed, for now held in check and relative repose. An imperceptible signal permeates the population of the platform and train. Somehow it is clear to everyone that the train will soon depart. The doors briefly crowd with flows of busy traffic - in and out. The hawkers make for the exits whilst passengers stretching their legs on the platform crowd around the door on the platform edge. Pushing inwards, they move uncertainly towards their seats, clearly half sun-blind for a while in the dark of the interior.

The breaks release with a sigh and I enjoy the wonderful moment of almost weightlessness as the carriages relax away from one another. The stillness (weightless Yin) I feel within the movement (Yang) of the carriages away from each other arises from a transformation of the dynamic (Yang) tension in the breaks holding the carriages in enforced immobility (Yin). Movement within stillness and stillness within movement – a concept I have explored in my still brief experience of practicing Tai Chi Chuan. The weightless moment is over almost as soon as it begins as the engine takes up the slack with a quiet insistence and the platform begins to slide slowly past. We draw even with the red turban of the chai wallah who is still wandering along the platform. We are momentarily motionless relative to one another as the train matches the speed of his gait. I am motionless in my seat in the cool shade (Yin) whilst he strides in the bright sunlight (Yang) and yet we are in perfect balance for a moment before the train pulls ahead. I appreciate that the Yin and Yang of things must be taken in the context of the whole environment (in this case including the train) and such comparisons made in isolation are meaningless.

It is late afternoon. The burning heat of the day is past and Savtri Mountain is beginning to take on shadow on the east facing slopes. Amazingly its magical symmetry is as perfect at sunset as it is at sunrise. It must be a serendipitous time of year for this effect. As I watch I am reminded that of the concept that any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang; and that Yin and Yang change to become one another over time.

As the desert sky fills with the most wonderful late afternoon colours, my mind wanders back to my thoughts as I watched a boy playing with a Yo-Yo a few days before. An almost obsolete toy in our high-tech societies but in contemplation a wonderful picture of dynamic transformation and interplay. As it reaches its lowest point (Yin) the Yo-Yo begins to spin on the string, its rotational energy at a maximum in the cycle. The string friction catches the Yo-Yo's axel and the spin transforms into altitude as the Yo-Yo climbs to the boy’s hand. At the apex of its climb (maximum Yang) the rotational energy is at a minimum and there is no vertical movement either - both Yin characteristics in comparison with other stages of the cycle. At all stages within the cycle there is Yin within Yang and vica verca, constant transition from one to the other and there is mutual engendering and control inherent in the dynamic interplay.

I begin my descent, stopping now and then to appreciate the wonder of the endless but imperceptible change in the light with each passing second as the day gives into evening. The day’s heat is still in the earth and I contemplate the difference in character of this stage of Yin growing within the Yang of the day, compared with that of Yang growing within the early morning Yin, when the cold of the night prevailed. The sky is still light whilst the earth is dark and I wonder what mis-observation gave rise to the saying “darkness falls” when the opposite is so clearly the case.

I am grappling with the concepts of wealth and poverty from a Yin & Yang point of view as I walk into town, especially when faced with the extremes of these all around this vibrant country. I come across a couple of dogs growling aggressively and circling one another. Unbearable tension. A snap here and there and the fray escalates into a full clash which seems to occur in slow motion as I watch from the shadows. Suddenly one of the mongrels falls on its back in complete submission. The guttural growls replaced with a whining sycophantic whimper of surrender. The victor stands above, still growling but with each long instant the force of his aggression seems to seep away almost against his will. No longer supported by an aggressive response, the victor’s Yang falls into the complete yielding abyss (Yin) and a balance of sorts is re-established.

It is safe to pass and I wander back through the streets alive with the festivities of the Hindi festival of lights (Diwali). Home made crackers explode all about competing with the temple bells and din and smells of the festivities. The quiet contemplation of the day is lost to the intoxicating abundance of sensory input.

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